Saturday, August 18, 2012

Walking in the Light of Day

61 The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.  62 At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.  63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.  –Psalm 119:61-63 (KJV)

The Word of God often speaks in figurative language about daylight and dark.  Nighttime is a time when evil deeds are committed and we know this is often the case.  The psalmist knew what we know today, and it is that the dark of night is as an attempt to conceal wickedness.  Consider how we as followers of Christ are to let the light of Jesus shine in the darkness, yet we also walk in the openness of the light.  We make no effort to hide our deeds in darkness, for the reverse is our desire – that we let our light shine before men that they may see our good works and glory our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).  

As Jesus’ disciples, we live openly as witnesses among the world.  The lost among us, those without Christ, need to see the light in us and from this light we bear witness to Christ who indwells us. 

The psalmist stated that if he did anything in the night other than sleep, it would be to rise and give thanks to God.  We have a picture of one so devoted to God that sleeplessness results in prayer and meditation.  Let us not forget that God is ever looking upon us.  God knows our thoughts as well as our deeds.  Therefore, let us strive to live lives of holiness as we daily walk in the light of Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Living the Abundant Life in the Lord

Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadeshbarnea to espy out the land; and I brought him word again as it was in mine heart.  Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt: but I wholly followed the Lord my God…10 And now, behold, the Lord hath kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the Lord spake this word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old.  11 As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in.  -Joshua 14: 7, 8, 10, 11 (KJV)

I was concerned after my last blog entry that some of you may have gotten the impression that my father had passed away.  I apologize if I conveyed this.  I did not mean to speak of dad in the past tense.  My father is alive, living with my mom in Ohio, and doing exceptionally well for 87 years old.  I can only hope that if I reach such advanced years that I too will enjoy such good health and quality of life.

When I think of people who have reached what we would refer to as elderly, I consider Caleb of the Old Testament.  Caleb was 40 when Moses selected him as one of the twelve spies to search out the Promised Land.  45 years later the people of Israel were ready to finish the task of taking and settling in the Promised Land, and Caleb, then 85, spoke of the vitality with which the Lord had blessed him.  What I sense Caleb was communicating was this; I am now 85 and I am just as fit as I was in my 40’s, so give me a sword and lets’ show these Canaanites a thing or two.  That is loosely translated, yet that is the gist of it.  He was willing to take on a challenge many younger men would have avoided.

I love this no quit, go forward, never stop growing, and never stop fighting attitude Caleb displayed.  To sit down and do nothing will result in a stagnant, dull, and hollow life.  To live the abundant life to which Jesus Christ has called us involves rising up and going forward over the long haul of life.  Like Caleb, do not fear taking on new challenges and new adventures.  Serving the Lord is a blessing in which we continue to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ.  God is calling His followers to rise up in faith and walk forward with a renewed sense of Christ’s power.  Regardless of whether you are 20 or 80, the Lord has a unique plan for your life.  Settle for nothing less than the fullness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Stop surviving and start living the abundant life in Christ today.

Now is the time and today is the day.  It is a big world out there with spiritual needs all around.  The Lord is calling us to shine His light in a world darkened by sin and evil.  So, what are you waiting for?  Get up and get going – in Jesus’ name.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Set Free by the Power of God

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  -Isaiah 55:8, 9 (KJV)

Something I have inherited from my father is a compassion for animals.  Had he not been a welder by trade I believe my dad would have made a fine veterinarian.  The house in which I grew up had a chimney that we never used, but birds would sometimes find their way down the chimney and become stuck.  We always knew when another bird was stranded in the chimney because we could hear it flapping its wings and thrashing around inside.  When this happened Dad would open the flu of the chimney which allowed the bird to fly into the house.  Dad would then calmly wait until the bird had landed somewhere, in a corner or on a chair, and he would then catch the bird with his bare hands.  Following this was their safe release outside.  Sparrows, pigeons, doves, and blue jays were the usual suspects.  Needless to say, the event always generated at least some excitement.

All of this came to mind a week or so ago when a small Carolina Wren became stuck in a light fixture on our carport.  The cover to the carport light is missing, and we have been using the new type of circular fluorescent light bulbs.  Somehow this little fellow managed to get his leg caught between the coils of the light bulb.  I found him thrashing around up there and he would have surely died.  Like my father had done countless times before, it was time to put my bird rescue skills into action.  I stood on a chair and using a small cloth I carefully enclosed the struggling bird in my hand.  With my other hand I was then able to gently free the bird’s leg, which I fear may have been broken by all his thrashing about.  The operation completed, I carried him into the yard and unfolded the cloth.  The wren needed about a second to realize he was free and he flew like a shot toward the nearest tree and out of sight.  If the bird could talk he might have been shouting, “I’m free, free, free!”  Dad would have been proud of my handling of the situation. 

As I reflected on this, I tried to place myself in the bird’s place.  What did he think of all this?  Here I am, stuck in a hopeless situation.  All of a sudden this being, larger and stronger than my mind can comprehend, approaches me.  I have no idea his intentions.  Suddenly, I am enclosed in his huge hand, yet he is not harming me.  My mind races as I try to understand what he is trying to do.  I feel his powerful, yet gentle touch.  I am engulfed in his presence.  Now the light shines and I am free – I can fly away!  I have been rescued!  Thank you for saving me from my desperate plight.

God Almighty, a being above and beyond our comprehension, has made Himself known to us in Jesus Christ.  Through faith in Him the Lord takes us into His hand, He engulfs us in His presence, and in so doing He sets us free from sin, death, sorrow, and hell.  In Christ we are now free to fly, yes, to soar with wings like eagles, for we are now free, free, free!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Overcoming Worry and Fear

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?  26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?  27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?  -Matthew 6:25-27 (KJV)

Worry is the great robber of the peace and joy Christ intends for us to have.  We know that worry creates problems such as unease, restlessness, stomach problems, and hypertension, yet we often worry anyway.  I once heard it said that most of what we worry about never happens and I have found this to be true.  Jesus warned us of the futility of worry.  We add nothing to our lives by worrying.  Indeed, we suffer and miss the joy and fullness of life when we allow worry to rule us. 
What would it take, short of leaving this world, for us to stop worrying?  The other day I finally heeded the advice of my dentist and began the process of having a crown placed on one of my teeth.  This involved a good amount of drilling and would be an involved and potentially painful procedure, so along with having the tooth numbed I agreed to use nitrous oxide, also known as laughing glass.  I had never used nitrous oxide before, so this was a new experience for me, and I will say a pleasant one.  As I lie there, breathing the gas and undergoing the ordeal of having my tooth drilled, I tried to come up with something to worry about.  Amazingly, I could not think of anything that was causing worry, stress, or fear.  “Wow,” I thought; “this stuff really works!”  I then decided to contemplate an asteroid the size of Texas hurtling toward earth.  Nothing; I could have chuckled at the idea. 

What a shame it took a drug to get me not to worry.  Here I must pause and consider the power of faith in Christ.  Faith empowers us to rise above anything that hinders our joy in the Lord.  The dark forces in our lives need not detract from our faith, but instead can strengthen faith.  The late Adrian Rogers once said that “faith is like film; it develops in the dark.” 

No doubt you are facing situations that are creating fear and worry.  Allow Christ to strengthen your faith in those difficult times.  You may feel dark forces are overwhelming you, yet Christ is able to strengthen your faith in these trials.  Cease from worrying and do not fret, for as the Scripture says it leads only to evil (Psalm 37:8).  Trust the Lord and walk forward in faith and claim the peace of Christ.  We are not alone, for the Lord is always with us. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Physical and Spiritual Health

1And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.  For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?  -I Corinthians 3:1-3 (KJV)

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon lately in fast-food commercials.  They depict young, seemingly healthy people laughing, dancing, and eating fast-food hamburgers and French fries.  The irony being that if people continue eating this kind of food over a period of time they can say goodbye to being fit, healthy, and happy.  Their days of being able to dance will probably end as well.  These days as I head into my 50’s I am more aware than ever of the need to be physically healthy.  If you are looking for a few tips on maintaining proper nutrition and fitness please have a look at my other blog, “Health, Happiness, and a Brighter Outlook” which can be easily linked from this page.  Feel free to peruse the archives.

Physical health is important, yet so is spiritual health.  If we desire to stay spiritually healthy then we must commit ourselves to prayer, worship, and daily time in God’s Word.  Neglecting prayer and time in the Word is akin to not eating right.  Failure to maintain a proper diet results in physical weakness and declining health.  The same occurs when we fail to maintain a proper spiritual diet.  Do not settle for skimming the surface in prayer and daily Bible reading.  Take the time to delve deeply into God’s Word so that the riches we find there can adequately make their way into the heart. 

Countless believers walk daily in frustration and spiritual weakness because they have neglected their spiritual health.  Where are you today in terms of these vital disciplines?  If you are like many people you could greatly benefit from rearranging your schedule to allow for more time in the Word and in prayer.  When we commit ourselves to daily time with the Lord we soon find our problems, trials, fears, and daily frustrations no longer look so large and imposing.  Instead, we realize the promise of God that with Him all is possible. 

Paul the Apostle bluntly told the church in I Corinthians that they were not ready for the meat of the Word because they were so worldly.  As followers of Christ we are called to be lead by the Holy Spirit.  God’s Spirit will lead us toward peace, joy, and soundness of mind.

Okay, who’s hungry?  Be sure to eat something healthy.  Who’s hungry for the Word of God?  Open the Word today and seek the Lord in prayer.  Make definitive steps to grow in spiritual health. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The True Nature of Friendship

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.  –Proverbs  17:17

I recall a number of years ago when the Internet was getting popular and everyone was starting to send and receive emails.  All of a sudden we were connecting and reconnecting with friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances.  These days, however, plain old email does seem a little boring, right?  I mean, we now have Facebook, blogging, texting, Skype (Internet on-screen phone calling), and Google messenger to name a few.  However, I cannot help but smile when I reflect on the time when email was so new and exciting.

During this early experience with the Internet, I was able to reconnect with a family who had been members of a church in another state where I had been the pastor.  Once I received my former church member’s email address I excitedly sat down and sent him a detailed message bringing him up to date on all that was going on with my family and ministry.  I told him about my family, what our sons all were doing, what was going on in Andrea’s life, and how the Lord was blessing our ministry.  I even told him about the puppy we had adopted.  A few days later, there was a message in my email inbox from my friend.  I eagerly opened it and read the following: “Dan: My old friend.  -Doug”

That was it.  Somehow I thought Doug might have taken the time to provide a little more detail as to what was going on in his life, yet he seemed content to simply acknowledge me as an old friend.  I have to admit I felt a little slighted.  I thought, “Come on, Doug; you can do better than that!  This is 1998 – we are on the Internet here!  Give me a few details.”  However, as I read the message I thought of what a sincere man my old friend is and how when it comes to electronic communication he is indeed a man of few words.  I contented myself with the knowledge that Doug considered me an old friend. 

The Word of God says that a friend loves us at all times.  Even though my friend did not have a great amount to share in his brief email, what he did say spoke volumes.  He thought of me as a friend.  I honestly have no doubt that even these years later were I to call him with a favor he would do anything in his power to help.  He is that kind of faithful friend.  Have you considered that a true friend does not have to say it, but expresses friendship through actions, trust, and deeds?  This is the test of true friendship; the test is not in words, but in the way they are always there for us when we need them. 

I am sad to say that in recent years I have lost touch with my friend Doug.  I am thinking of tracking down his email address and saying hello and bringing him up to date on all that has been going on in my life these recent years.  On the other hand, I might just make it much more succinct and say something like this:

My old friend.

I am sure that would do just fine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Beware of Distractions and Obsessions

47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: 48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.  –Luke 6:47, 48

If I told you that people do the strangest things you would not surprised.  People often behave in odd, strange, and eccentric ways.  We all have our little habits, right?  Personally, I cannot go to bed at night unless I have flossed and brushed my teeth.  In addition, I almost never leave the house in the morning without shaving.  Okay, I realize my behavior does not rise to the level of odd as millions of people probably practice similar daily rituals.
However, what about something that becomes an obsession?  Just how far will people take a desire or pursuit?  I have a relative who decorated the den of his house entirely with the colors and insignias of the Cleveland Browns football team.  The room positively blazes in orange and brown and one wall is covered with a giant representation of the team helmet.  Everything in the room, from the furniture to the lamps to the carpet and pictures on the wall is dedicated to his team.  Of course, there is a large TV screen on which the games are watched every Sunday during the season.  My relative’s wife seems perfectly willing to indulge her husband’s obsession with the Browns.  What a wonderfully patient young woman.

You may think my relative’s obsession is something, but it pales in comparison to Mr. Ron Wade of Longview, Texas.  Mr. Wade has spent over $250,000.00 turning a room of his house into an exact replica of the Oval Office of the White House.  Have a look for yourself.  

 Not too shabby, I must say.  It truly does look like the Oval Office.  One news source said it took him two and a half years to design and eight months to build.  Mr. Wade stated that his is a “healthy obsession.”1

Consider the words of Jesus concerning the foundation of our lives.  The Lord said that when we build our lives upon Him we are building upon the solid rock, which will withstand the test of time.  It’s easy to get off track and become caught up in all sorts of distractions, worries, and yes – obsessions.  There is nothing wrong with a hobby as these can be relaxing and enjoyable.  However, anything which takes us away from our focus, which is a life dedicated to Christ, should be brought under control before it consumes us.  The Lord is always willing to help us remove from our lives anything that becomes a hindrance to a Spirit-filled and Spirit-directed life.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, those parts of our lives that keep us from the abundant in Christ are brought under control.  Remember that Christ is greater than any problem, or obsession, we will ever face. 

Resolve to build your life on the solid rock of Jesus Christ.  You will not regret it, for your life will be rooted, grounded, and firmly established.  With Jesus as the foundation we have power to overcome anything that hinders.  Stand firm on the Lord, and go forward in faith.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Not Allowing Discouragement to Spread

6And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?  7And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?  8Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.  9For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had given them.  -Numbers 32:6-8 (KJV)

Many times in the Bible we find where God’s people were given to complaining, grumbling, and a negative spirit.  When this happened the effect spread throughout the people until those who had been hopeful began to join in with the complainers.  Remember that it takes several positive comments to bring us up emotionally, and only one to bring us down.  In Numbers 13 and 14 it only took 10 negative people to get the entire Israelite community to back away from God’s plan.  A million plus people were ready to call it quits and go back to Egypt because 10 people though they couldn’t do what God wanted them to do – which was take the Promised Land.  In this case discouragement spread like a virus and infected the people to the point of despair.  
Here in Numbers 32 some of the tribes of Israel did not want to go forward into the Promised Land.  Moses was concerned that if this group stayed behind that the rest of the people would become discouraged.  Moses’ concerns were justified.  The Body of Christ today must stand unified for us to accomplish what the Lord has called us to do.  If we allow discouragement to get a foothold it will hinder all we seek to accomplish in our service to Christ.  God is not about discouraging us.  God is about encouraging us to stay and remain in His will.  How easily we can be discouraged and begin to fret, worry, and back away from what the Lord has called us to do. 

Moses shared his concern that a relatively small group of people would negatively effect everyone.  He had seen it happen before.  This is why we do well to seek the Lord, have faith, and be ready to move forward when the Lord commands us to do so.  As it turns out these Israelites were willing to assist their brethren in going over and taking the Promised Land, yet what I have to wonder about is why they were willing to settle on the east side of the Jordan.  Why live in the barren, dry desert when you could live in a good land flowing with milk and honey?  God has long called His people to settle for nothing short of the fullness of God’s blessings, yet we are sometimes willing to settle for just a taste.  We can eat that dry crust of bread, yet the Lord invites us to full banquet.  Why settle for anything less?

Mark 5 gives the account of the demon possessed man who Jesus healed.  This took place among the people who dwelt in the region of the Gadarenes.  Most Bible scholars agree these people were the descendants of the Israelites who stayed on the east side of the Jordan.  These were the people who asked Jesus to leave their region after He had driven the demons out of the man.  Where was the celebration?  Where was the praise to God for the healing that had taken place?  It was lost in their bitterness over losing a small herd of pigs.  They missed out on what could have been a great movement of God’s Spirit.  Like their fathers before them they were contented to remain where they were rather than where God would have taken them.  God always is moving us forward in our faith.  Do not allow discouragement to keep us from moving to where God is calling us to go. 

Let me share with you the following keys to overcoming discouragement:
-Keep our eyes on Jesus rather than our circumstances.
-Speak words of grace rather than complaints.  Grace builds up the Body of Christ.
-Practice grace in our relationships with each other.
-Stay in the Word and in prayer.  Saturate our hearts and minds with both.
-When you feel discouraged take it to the Lord in prayer. 
-Practice divine perspective.  Ask yourself if this present problem will amount to much in the broad scheme of things.  Furthermore, will it matter in the broad scheme of eternity?
-Be willing to pray about everything and pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).
-Do not allow discouragement to gain a foothold in the heart.
-Be constantly seeking to grow in faith, grace, love, and, mercy.

Former heavy-weight boxer James (Quick) Tillis is a cowboy from Oklahoma who fought out of Chicago in the early 1980s. He still remembers his first day in the Windy City after his arrival from Tulsa. "I got off the bus with two cardboard suitcases under by arms in downtown Chicago and stopped in front of the Sears Tower. I put my suitcases down, and I looked up at the Tower and I said to myself, 'I'm going to conquer Chicago.' "When I looked down, the suitcases were gone."   Discouragement will come.  Rise up and claim God's power in Jesus Christ to overcome it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spiritually Minded to Overcome Discouragement

5For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.  6For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  -Romans 8:5-7 (KJV)

I hope that you are reading this blog because you not only need encouragement and inspiration, but you also have a sincere desire to be a spiritually minded person with a close walk with God. Understand, however, this will not happen all by itself. Being spiritually minded involves seriously, prayerfully, and thoughtfully taking on this challenge. Pray, stay in the Word, resist the devil, take on the attitudes of Jesus, be faithful, and continue to do so over the long haul of life. If you think I never get discouraged think again. I do sometimes. I am just as susceptible to this as anyone, maybe ever more so. What I find works best is an attitude of remain faithful at any cost. No matter what it takes, remain faithful. 

When we read the Old Testament we find that Israel’s problem was many times they had to climb out of a spiritual pit rather than defend the high ground. Recall what Jesus said about the city set on a hill; it cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). If the city cannot be hidden then at some point an enemy is going to try and take the city. If we view our lives as the city set on a hill then be certain the devil will attack. Israel gave into idolatry and godlessness many times. They allowed themselves to fall from the hilltop of faith, and then they had to fight their way up out a spiritual pit which is always more difficult. 

My friends, stay on the high ground of faith, remain there, and by the power of Christ defend this noble position. By faith we build into our lives safeguards to keep us from stumbling. These become sensible, day-by-day practices, and they become as natural to us as breathing. We put on our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6) each day. Always be on the lookout for temptations and snares, and walk forward in bold faith every day. Discouragement robs us of our spiritual vitality. It is difficult to have vibrant faith when discouragement is present, because it saps our spiritual energy. Exercise and eating right gives us physical energy. Prayer, the Word, worship, fellowship with other believers, and encouragement from others brings spiritual energy. Maintain strong faith, be spiritually minded, and we find the resources we need for overcoming discouragement. 

William Ward once said, "Discouragement is dissatisfaction with the past, distaste for the present, and distrust of the future. It is ingratitude for the blessings of yesterday, indifference to the opportunities of today, and insecurity regarding strength for tomorrow. It is unawareness of the presence of beauty, unconcern for the needs of our fellowman, and unbelief in the promises of old. It is impatience with time, immaturity of thought, and impoliteness to God." 

Paul the Apostle spoke in II Timothy 4:7 of fighting the good fight of the faith. Discouragement hinders our power to keep fighting this good fight. God will empower us to stand, keep on standing, and then to keep moving forward. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord is indeed with us.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Fellowship of the Faith

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.  -I John 1:7 (KJV)

As I write this I am in day two of a badly needed four day vacation.  Not only am I enjoying a wonderful visit with my sister and her family, I have also had the opportunity to do a little fly fishing.  Understand, however, that this is a new experience for me and fly fishing requires skills which I am only beginning to develop.  Yesterday I spent the better part of the afternoon fly fishing in the beautiful and scenic Clinch River which flows from the Norris Dam.  The fish weren't biting, but I had the time of my life.  Around 3:00 in the afternoon I was beginning to wonder if there were truly any trout in this river.  As if in answer to my question a large rainbow trout, over a foot long, swam casually past me.  If that fish could talk he might have said, "Forget about it rookie, we're way too smart for you."

Seeing this fish strengthen my determination and I continued to work on my skills with the fly rod.  As I fished an interesting phenomenon took place.  Several other fly fishermen walked by and I engaged a few of them in conversation.  When they discovered I was a beginner they were more than happy to offer helpful suggestions and insights.  In fact, it was though I was being welcomed into a brotherhood of sorts.  That's only fair, I suppose, because they too were beginners once and agreed that we all must start somewhere.  The advice they provided was equal to any class I might decide to take on fly fishing.  It occurred to me that there was a fellowship I was sharing with these others fishermen.  They understood the challenges and complexities of fly fishing and had labored many years in the pursuit of the sport.

As I pondered this I realized how our faith in Christ is similar to this.  As followers of Jesus we share a deep and abiding fellowship with one another.  The Word of God says if we walk in the light, as Christ is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.  The blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin and we are bound together in the regenerating and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.  Like fishermen who are willing to support one another, we too stand together in shared faith.  We bear one another's burdens, encourage each other in the faith, lift up those who have fallen, and pray for one another's trials.  We are called to stand together in faith, bound to each other with strong cords that cannot be broken.

What a blessing to know that we do not serve the Lord in isolation.  We have the Body of Christ, other believers, to encourage us along the way.  On another note, as I was winding up my afternoon of fishing I was approached by the local game warden who asked me if I had a fishing license.  What a blessing to reply that I did (This was the first time this has ever happened to me).  After showing him my license he too was very helpful and willing to offer advice to a new fly fisherman.  What a blessed brotherhood!

Recall the words of Jesus when he told the disciples that He would make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).  Let us now go and do likewise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Overcoming Discouragement Through Faith

20And I said unto you, Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the LORD our God doth give unto us.  21Behold, the LORD thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged. -Deuteronomy 1:20, 21 (KJV)

Faith is our greatest and most powerful tool for standing firm in the face of discouragement.  If discouragement is allowed to get a foothold in our lives we run the risk of becoming bitter, detached from the fellowship of the church, and maybe even walking away from our commitment to Christ.  We might also become moody, cynical, and no fun to be around.  Never before I have encountered people who are more discouraged than right now.  Discouragement is infiltrating churches like never before.  Rather than rising up and walking in faith, people are throwing in the towel in terms of their service to Christ.  If we are going through a problem we need people around us who will pray, listen, and support us during the problem.  It makes no sense to cut out of our lives the very support we need when problems arise.  Yet, this is what countless people have done and are continuing to do.  

Moses reminded the people before they entered the Promised Land that one of their greatest enemies would be discouragement.  If they became discouraged they would lose heart, courage, strength, and they might as well go back into the wilderness.  Faith would move them forward.  Faith will do the same for us especially in the presence of seemingly impossible odds.  Going in and taking the Promised Land seemed impossible.  Maybe you have faced, or are facing, problems and situations that look impossible.  Without faith in God these situations become so large and overwhelming that we can easily become discouraged.  During these times our courage and strength can seem to drain from us.  

Faith empowers us to claim God’s promises.  What had God been telling the people all along?  The Lord had been reminding them that He was with them, would bless them, and fight their battles for them.  Look at the end of verse 20; this is a reference to God’s promise that He would give them the land.  What we are called to possess means we have to become involved in the process.  We are called to rise up, trust God, seek Him, pray without ceasing, be faithful, and move toward that better place to which God is leading.  In the case of Israel it was the Promised Land.  We too have a Promised Land; it is called heaven.  Until we get there, God calls us to overcome the obstacles to our faith and ministry.  

Faith empowers us to take the right stand.  God told the people through Moses in verse 21 to go up and take possession of the land.  The time for wandering was over.  It was time for moving forward in a very purposeful direction – one which lead to taking the Promised Land for their own.  God is not calling us to wander aimlessly.  Instead, God is calling us to a clear path of service and commitment to Christ.  Stop wandering in the wilderness of doubt, fear, and discouragement.  Start today claiming God's promises and taking hold of the abundant life in Christ to which we are called.

The other day in church we sang the hymn, "Standing on the Promises."  I once heard someone say the problem with the church is we have for too long been "sitting on the premises."  Let us cease sitting and start standing on those blessed promises.  Moreover, having begun to stand, let us claim the power of God for our own. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Problem of Discouragement

3And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.  4And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. -Numbers 21:3, 4
The other day I was at my son’s house and I saw his cat drinking from an old flowerpot, which was filled with rainwater.  The water looked rancid and distasteful.  I suggested he provide his poor old cat with some fresh water instead.  I hope that he did.  As I thought about this I considered how being discouraged is like drinking from a foul and polluted water source.  We get nothing out of being discouraged except feeling bad, overwhelmed, and tired in spirit.  This has never been, nor is it God’s plan for us.  Yet, how many of us suffer from discouragement?  All of us do at some point.  If we do not take steps to overcome, we will find ourselves spiritually defeated rather than walking in spiritual victory.  

Numbers 21 is a powerful picture of what happens when discouragement takes over.  The people of Israel were getting close to the Promised Land, and God allowed them a great victory.  They fought a battle against overwhelming odds and won.  This was cause for celebration!  “Hey, we won a victory!  Let us be thankful and attune our hearts to God and walk forward in faith.” Instead of taking this approach, they became discouraged.  The Scripture says as they journeyed the soul of the people became discouraged.  Their discouragement became so widespread you could hardly find an Israelite in the camp who wasn’t down and out, overwhelmed, and ready to give up.  This was right on the heels of a great victory.  Discouragement such as this can happen to believers today and the Word shows us their experience as a warning to us.

Like Israel, it is during our moment of triumph we are most likely to let our guard down.  When the ministries of the church are going well, the people are being blessed, and folks are coming together in fellowship, then beware, for the devil is about to strike.  He hates it when the church comes together in unity and he will use every tool at his disposal to try to drive us apart.  If the devil can get folks discouraged, then he is on his way to bringing us down.  We must be on our guard at all times especially when the church is being blessed and the people are walking in faith and victory.  The devil hates that.  Back to the Israelites.  They gave into discouragement right after a great victory.  Why was this?  Here are a few possibilities:

They were physically exhausted.  They were journeying and traveling and it looked like their journey would never end.  Have you ever felt this way?  Followers of Christ have long confused activity with spiriutuality.  Having our schedules full can be good, yet we can easily become overwhelmed.  Be careful about trying to do too much.  I have had to learn this the hard way and I still learning.   Recently I was studying Exodus 18 where Moses received godly council from his father-in-law.  The words of Jethro must have stung when he said to Moses, “What you are doing is not good…you cannot handle it alone.” Pastors have to learn these lessons as well as all followers of Christ.  We cannot carry all the burdens alone.  This is why we have the Holy Spirit and it is why we have the church, the Body of Christ.

They were emotionally drained.  Again, you can probably relate.  Life and all of its problems take a terrible emotional toll on us.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit each day to keep us going, and we need the encouragement of others to help us as well.  You know you are discouraged when there is a spiritual heaviness which seems to be upon you.  It goes beyond just being fatigued.  This describes the Israelites in this passage.  What was needed was a fresh wind of God’s Spirit.  The Lord is always willing to provide encouragement when we seek Him.

They allowed negativity to guide their thoughts and their words.  If we allow discouragement to set in we are liable to lose control of our words.  When this happens what we say changes from the positive to the negative.  The Word of God challenges us to speak words of encouragement to each other, yet we all sometimes fall short of this.  God’s people were given to discouragement and they began to give into a negative and complaining spirit.   

The Bible says the people paid a terrible price for allowing discouragement to rule them.  In verse 5 they complained: “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.”  We are really starting to hate this manna, Moses.  We need something better to eat.  How about poisonous snakes?  They went through a painful process of coming back to God, and in their redemption we see a picture of what the Lord Jesus would one day provide for all people.
Keep trusting the Lord, do not give up, keep praying, stay in the Word, keep moving, keep smiling, and keep speaking good words to one another.  Discouragement is overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Stretching our Spiritual Muscles

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.  -2 Peter 3:18 (KJV) 

I sometimes think that for a 50-year-old man I am in fairly good shape.  I try to eat right, exercise, watch my weight, and keep a positive attitude.  I read recently that a good gauge of a man’s health is if he can do 30 push-ups.  Now, I probably will not do this if you ask me to, but yes, I can drop to the floor and accomplish this seemingly impossible feat.  I thought I was in good shape, that is until my son invited me to try a new workout program he has started.  The P-90X workout system is a daily routine watched on DVD, which takes you step-by-step through the program.  The other day I attempted one of the workouts.  I thought I was going to die.  This is a giant leap upward from what I am used to in my normal workout routine. 

I share this because many followers of Christ make the mistake of believing they are fine as they are.  However, if they are honest they will find they are spiritually out of shape.  Daily prayer time, if practiced at all, is hurried, personal Bible study amounts to a few verses a day, and there is seldom time blocked out in their daily schedules for quiet and extended meditation on God’s holy Word.  I heard a pastor once say that for many of us our prayer time amounts to only skimming the surface.  Indeed greater depth is needed and makes all of the difference.   

The Word of God challenges us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This growth process only happens through consistent and dedicated time with God.  Strengthening takes place as our spiritual muscles stretch and grows stronger.  Take a good look at your spiritual condition.  Is your daily prayer and Bible study time hurried and perfunctory?  If so, now is the time to make changes.  Start rising earlier to seek the Lord in prayer.  Block out time in your schedule to spend reading and meditating on God’s Word.  Guard this daily time with God zealously lest our busy lives crowd it out. 

You will begin to see a positive difference in your life as you walk in the fullness of Christ each day.  Seek the Lord today.  He will be waiting for you. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Will You Not do Without?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  -Romans 12:1 (KJV)
Occasionally during a crucial moment in my Sunday sermon someone’s cell phone starts ringing.  Pockets are searched, a purse might be emptied, and there is a general feeling of “Oh please make this stop” in the air where peaceful worship had prevailed.  After what seems like a long time the phone is recovered and turned off.   My usual strategy in these moments is to go on preaching as if I can’t hear it.  “Poor Brother Dan.” people probably think. “He’s losing his hearing.” No, my hearing is fine; I’m simply trying to cope with yet another nuisance created by the age of technology.

Millions of people carry cell phones and we would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t own one.  Most of us have become so dependent on our phones that if we forget them we turn the car around and go back to get them.  Truly we have come to believe we cannot function without our cell phones.

Consider what would happen if we resolved that there are certain aspects of our faith we will not do without.  What if we decided we would not leave the house in the morning unless we have prayed and spent time in God’s Word?  Imagine what would happen if we determined to be Christ-like at all times?  Picture an outlook on life so characterized by the love of the Lord in us that we begin to see others the way Christ sees them.  

Such personal sacrifice would be revolutionary in today’s world.  Instead of looking out for ourselves and our needs we would become more attuned to the needs of others.  Such love compels us to reach out in the name of the Lord and become those living, breathing, and walking sacrifices spoken of Scripture.  We would become energized to walk forward in vibrant faith each day.  Instead of being self-centered we would become Christ-centered.  Rather than be bitter we would be joyful.  A pessimistic outlook would be replaced by one of optimism over the blessings the Lord has in store for us.  When we become living sacrifices for Christ we are empowered to rise up from the ashes of defeat and experience the true power of God’s Spirit.  Such spiritual power is like cool, clear water to a parched and weary soul.  

Do you desire this fresh touch from God?  Try putting your phone on silent for a while and get back into God’s Word and prayer.  You will be astounded at the results.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

God’s Will in What Seems Impossible

6And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.  7And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.  8And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.  -Genesis 18:6-8 (KJV) 

My grandfather, who has been deceased for a number of years, continued to live an active life well into his 70’s.  He stayed busy working around his small farm in eastern Kentucky and always enjoyed visiting with family and friends.  I am told my grandfather went to see the doctor for a physical and the doctor asked him if he was experiencing any health problems.  “Just one,” Granddad replied, “anytime I run up the hill behind the barn my heart beats very fast.” I don’t know exactly what the doctor told him, but it may have involved advising him to be careful about running up the hill as this will indeed make one’s heart beat faster. 

The Bible says in Genesis 18 when Abraham received the three angelic visitors he “ran” to his herd and selected a calf to slaughter for the meal.  Remember that Abraham was 99 years old when this took place – approximately 20 years older than my grandfather when he used to run up the hill behind the barn.  No doubt Abraham’s heart beat fast as well.  Yet, I believe Abraham’s heart rate increased not only as a result of exertion, but of excitement over what the Lord was doing in his life.  After all the years of waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled something was finally about to happen.  But what was it going to be?  The angels revealed how one year from then a child would be born to Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  We see the miracle God was doing, for Sarah herself was around 90 at the time of this pronouncement.  So stunned was she when she heard the words of the angel that she laughed (Genesis 18:12).   

Let’s not judge Sarah too harshly.  How many of us might have responded similarly?  In fact, many among us might have cried over such news.  Andrea and I have now arrived at what is known as middle age, and we cannot imagine starting all over again with a baby.  Yet, this was God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah.  The fact they were well beyond the years of having children presented no problem for God and the working of His will.  True to His Word, one year later Sarah, age 90, gave birth to a precious little baby boy (Genesis 21:1-7).  They named him Isaac, which sounds like the Hebrew word for “He laughs.” How appropriate was this name.  In a case such as this we might as well laugh and seek to enjoy the blessing God has set before us.   

What sort of blessings has God set before you today?  Do you mistakenly believe they are hardships?  What sort of seemingly impossibly situations are you facing?  Remember the same God who gave a baby to a man 100 years old and a woman who was 90 can work miracles in our lives today.  Stop doubting God and begin to walk by faith.  Learn to laugh in the face of the trials we face, for the Lord can and will transform them into blessings – in His time and according to His good purposes. 

Run, don’t walk, toward God’s will today.  (But be careful about that increased heart rate.)